Some Tips for photographing in the Mara:
Close crop animals in unexpected positions.
Picture #1 of the baby giraffes entwining their necks into a heart won me a prize in our local news paper and was featured in the travel section on Valentines day!
Horizon lines don't always have to be in the middle!
Using a large f-stop such as f/11 or higher will render background and foreground equally sharp in focus.
Including the foreground in Picture #2 added drama and helped illustrate the amount of grass in the Mara plains as the zebra herd passed in the background.
Position yourself just ahead of the herds:
By shooting into the dust created by the oncoming Wildebeest herds, it added a sense of "being there"
Fondest memory: Try to photograph from the animal's perspective.
By shooting behind the lioness hunting in Picture #4, one can get a sense of her eye'ing the zebras and wildebeest in the background.
One can almost sense her next move
Add people to your photographs for a sense of perspective.
By photographing this lone Masaai standing out in the vast plain one can get a feel for the place.
Some general tips for photographing in the Mara:
Keep in mind that the Masai Mara is a combination of both animals and great scenics.
For this reason, both a fairly good telephoto lens as well as a wide angle lens (to capture the vast savannas) will be necessary.
You will also be going out during several natural light conditions. Early morning game drives usually begin when the light is still dim or just peeking over the horizon - late morning - noon drives will have bright light and late afternoon/early evening game drives will again have very fast changing lighting conditions.
For this reason, "fast" lenses - lenses with an aperture of f/2.8 or greater are preferred and better able to handle such extreme light conditions.
I personally shoot both Nikon and Canon and find them fairly comparable. My personal preferences are: Canon for portrait and studio work and Nikon for action/sports/wildlife work - but that's just me.
I prefer the Nikon lenses for clarity and quality of glass with Sigma being a close second.
Make sure your camera has a high fps (frame per second) capability so that you can shoot off 3, 4, 5 shots within a second as you pan and follow the sometimes spontaneous action such as a lioness chase and kill.
A Nikon D90 or Nikon D7000 are my mid priced cameras of choice and I always carry both.
WIDE ANGLE LENSES:
Because of the vastness of the African plains and the incredible landscape opportunities from animals migrating and moving to solitary umbrella trees to dust devils dancing across the grass - you will want to capture the feeling of "grand" in as big a picture as you possibly can.
A wide angle lens is a must.
I prefer 18 - 28mm for my wide angles. The smaller the number the wider focal length and amount of image you can capture within the frame.
EXAMPLE: 18mm - very wide vs. 300mm - very close
Fondest memory: TELEPHOTO LENSES:
Although most game drives and any guide worth his salt will be able to get you fairly close to the animal action, you will still find yourself in conditions where action is going on just beyond the reach of a basic "kit lens" (lens which more than likely came with your camera.
EXAMPLES: Lions hunting, Cheetah chasing it's prey, Elephants feeding out in the water, leopard sitting in tree, hoofed animals giving birth.
A good fixed prime lens of 300mm with an f/2.8 aperture is wonderful - but very expensive.
A good alternative is the Tamron 28mm-300mm zoom. This will give you a wide range of options from wide angle to close zoom.
My lenses: Nikon 18-55mm f/1.8 - Nikon 24-70mm (both wide angle lenses). Nikon 55mm (general portrait lens) - Nikon 105mm f/2.0 (macro lens), Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom and Nikon 300mm f/2.8 fixed prime for wildlife.
1) Sturdy camera bag (I prefer the Pelican case - carry on size as pictured here:
I also like the Galen Rowell camera bag: http://www.mountainlight.com/bags.html
2) Eye glass cleaning solution + soft cleaning cloths
3) Pressurized air canister for cleaning dust off lenses (Kenya is very dusty)
4) Extra batteries
5) Batter pack for your cameras which can be picked up for as little as USD $40.00 on ebay. Battery packs hold up to 2 lithium batteries and will double the life of your shoot as well as inject power into your rapid firing mode
6) Bean bag for stabilizing your lens propped against your vehicle's window. Tripods are rendered useless as you will not be able to exit your vehicle once inside the parks.
small screw driver
7) Combination of UV filters (to protect your lenses from scratches and reduce haze, Polarizing filters and Neutral Density (ND) filters ranging in +1 - +2 & +3 increments.
Yes, there is one option which can really drive your budget down.
That is :
1. By booking your own safari camps: Thjare about 82 choices in Lonely Planetere
2. Hiring your own vehicle for the period : You can check through the car rental sites
3. Getting your own Guide and Driver for the Mara Safari : If you need contacts, mail me separately.
And Enjoy in comfort and privacy :)
Fondest memory: Masai staff at Nyumbu camp doing a dance to entertain us after dinner.
Our Car had a small trouble while we were riding the rode from Narok towards Masai mara.
And within minutes the sky darkened and clouds rolled in for a short 10 minutes shower.
Shown below , my dughter enjoying with her raincoat on.
As we reached the Masai Mara Reserve gates, the rain was still drizzling a bit.
Seen here through a rain wiped windshield which makes up for a interesting picture.
We have been lucky to see most animals except the Rhino and the Leopard.There are short rains right in the morning before 8am or early afternoon between 3 and 4 pm. It means fairly hot day time an d pretty coldish late evenings ( one sweater-/ jacket/ pullover is enough)
Fondest memory: There are many fond memories:
It includes being surrounded by a pack of Elephants,
Zebras dancing next to the vehicle
The exquisite mating of Lions
A dance by a Masai team at 9.30 at night and
Giraffes looking at you from over the trees.
And that of a beautiful Masai girl with a beautiful smile.
One disturbing thing kept bothering me during our safari and that was the large numbers of safari vehicles that would show up when a lion or other exciting animal was spotted. The drivers would radio each other and just like that , jeeps arrived from everywhere.
We learn the Mara has a large concentration of lions and we see several on our evening drive. For me they are probably the most exciting animal to see .
Unlike other areas we have been however ,there are many more vehicles here however and when we spot a lion they all show up.
I can’t help but wonder how disturbing this is to the animals and to think this isn’t even high season.
The wildebeest, also known as "gnu", is the most numerous inhabitant in Masai Mara. It's the least graceful antelope, and a strange creature with brown fur and black beard. It lookes like a hybrid between a skinny cow and a Taliban warrier. The animal is so weird that lions dislike hunting it. The exception is when lions fail to catch another animal. I have seen zebras being hunted by lions when they ran zigzag between the slower wildebeest for distraction. But no way, the lions picked the zebra.
Each year, in July, a large number of wildebeest migrate from Serengeti, Tanzania, in search for fresh grass. And they return to Serengeti in October. The number of wildebeests is estimated to nearly 2 mill in Serengeti and Masai Mara. They say it's important for the ecosystem because the dung fertilizes the ground. I have never seen so much *** on the ground before.
The wildebeest is 1,4 meters high and weigh between 150 and 250 kg. The female will have their calves in the summer. The Wildebeest can live for more than 20 years. Wildebeest are often misspelled as Wildbeast or Wilderbeast.
Favorite thing: Ostrich is the largest bird in the world, although it can not fly. It has an African origin, where the breed is called Masaicus. The ostrich can run at a top speed of 70 km/h, which is faster than many predators.The food is mainly grass, plants and insects. When threatened, the ostrich will hide by lying flat against the ground, or run away. It can also attack with a kick from its powerful legs. Female ostriches are greyish-brown, white legs and weigh up to 130 kg. The males are mostly black/white, pink legs and weighing up to 155 kg.
There are almost 200,000 zebras in Masai Mara together with the wildbeast during the migration from July to September in search for fresh grass and pastures.
The socalled "Plains Zebra" inhabits Masai Mara. They can be up to 1,5 meter tall and weigh about 230 kg. The Plains zebra can be reconized by their short legs and thick body. (The other zebra in the nortern part of Kenya, the socalled "Grevy's Zebra", have a body more like a horse).
The Zebras group together in large herds with eachother and other grazing species, like the wildbeasts and gazelles. The Plains Zebra has a better stamina than a horse, but is slower. The top speed is 55 km/h, which was a bit too slow for the lions I saw in Masai mara (see the tip "lions eating a zebra").
The hippopotamus are found in shallow waters in Africa, and can be seen in Mara River (see photos). Male hippos are growing throughout their lives, and can weight up to 3,000 kg. The females stop growing at the age of 25 years, and can weight up to 1,500 kg. The hippos stay in the waters most of the day for sun protection. In addition some hippos have a red colored sunprotected secrete from the skin.
They are plant-eaters and have a peaceful appearance, but are very territorial and dangerous animals. The hippos are responsible for many human deaths in Africa. They can run faster than a human on land for a short period, between 30-40 km/h. And can move at the speed of 10 km/h in the water. Their teeth can be up to 50 cm long. African farmers and boatmen are in danger when approaching the animal.
There are a lot of giraffes in Masai Mara, and you can see them eating leaves of trees. They can eat 63 kg of leaves and twigs daily, but have more problems to drink because of the long neck. The giraffe which lives in Masai Mara has a jagged-edged, shaped spots of dark chocolate on a yellow background. The giraffe can be more than 5 meter tall and weigh up to 900 kg food.
The Giraffe can run fast, but not for a long distance due to the small size of the lungs. It defends itself by kicking with their enlarged forelegs at great force. The size of the giraffe's neck in combination with the leg length, is an advantage in defending against lion attacks.
Favorite thing: The African Elephant is the largest land animal in the world, and reaches up to 6-7 meter in length and 3,5 meters in height. It weights between 5,000 and 10,000 kg. It eats up to 300kg of grass, leaves and bark each day, and drink 200 litres of water per day. It can run at a top speed of 40 km/h when scared or upset. Elephants are dangerous and cause 75% of human deaths from wildlife in Africa. The beer "Tusker" has it's name from the two prominent "tusks" of an elephant.
Favorite thing: The Impala are known for being the high-jump champions of world, with leaps 3 meters high and almost 10 meters long. It's a medium-sized African antelope, weighing about 50 kg. The Impala on the picture suddenly jumped out off the bush beside the car. It was hiding and something scared it.
Favorite thing: The Cheetah is the fastest of all animals with a stop speed of 110 km/h at full sprint. The cheetah's body is slim and aerodynamically designed. The fur of the cheetah is yellow with round black spots which help to camouflage it and black tear lines on the sides of the muzzle. The adult animal weighs up to 65 kg. The Cheetah is often mistaken for a Leopard. It doesn't have the shaped lines on each side of its nose and is thinner and has an extra long tail. They hunt by speed rather than by stealth tactics. Cheetahs eat mostly mammals under 40 kg, like impala, gazelles and Wildebeest calves. The Cheetah hunts usually early in the morning or later in the night when it is not so hot. The chase is usually over in less than a minute. And it often give up rather than waste energy.
Favorite thing: The African Water Buffalo is one of the socalled "big five". It's an aggressive and bad-tempered beast, killing more people than lions or crocodiles do. They will charge for any reason, at the least sense of danger. It can reach a weight of 900 kilograms. A wounded buffalo will fake dead to let predators come near and thus deliver a last desperate attack. Buffaloes lives close to swampy ground where they can wallow. A male is recognizable by the thickness of his horns.
Favorite thing: An antelope is an animal like a deer which can run very fast. Some of them have long legs and horns. There are a lot of different antelopes in Masai Mara, like Thomson's Gazelle, Eland, Topi, Impala, Duiker, Dik Dik, Hartebeest, Grant's Gazelle, Waterbuck and Oribi.